4D Movies: The Latest, Greatest Gimmick Comes to North America

And here I was, thinking that allowing cellphone use in cinemas was a sign of the moviegoing apocalypse. Little did I know that there’s a new form of torment on its way. A South Korean conglomerate, the CJ Group, is inking a deal with a major exhibition chain to build 200 “4D” movie theatres in North America. That means yet another format to choose from, and even higher ticket prices ($8 on top of a normal 2D fare).

Because 3D movies have apparently failed the audience immersion test (or more likely, haven’t made enough money) 4D is being pitched as the best new thing to happen to movies.  What’s especially annoying is that CJ Group and their partners are wrong on both counts: 4D won’t make people feel like they’re “inside” a movie, and it won’t result in higher attendance.

You’ve probably already had an experience with 4D attractions, especially if you’ve ever been on vacation and visited a modern museum, aquarium or amusement park. 4D combines a 3D film (usually less than 20 minutes long) with all sorts of extra thrills: scents sprayed into the air, water splashing at the audience, or motorized seats that shift and vibrate.

I (reluctantly) went to one of these shows in the base of the CN Tower in Toronto. Billed as an Amazonian log ride adventure, the ride jostled us in our seats, sprayed us with water, and even whacked our legs with motorized rubber things, to imitate crocodile tails under our seats. And this was in addition to a 3D movie with pitiful animation and no story. It was the first (and hopefully last) time I left a theatre feeling like I had been physically assaulted.

This is the experience that the CJ Group is peddling in the North American market. Somehow, we’re supposed to believe that all these extra sensations will make us feel at one with the pictures on the screen. Our pathetic minds are allegedly too desensitized, too jaded, to enjoy an old-fashioned motion picture anymore. Oh, and sure, we’ll hand over even more money for the privilege.

With a plan for 200 4D screens, the new format becomes even more worrying. This isn’t a tiny test project. It’s backed up by the popularity of 4D in Asia, and 200 screens can easily balloon into 1,000 or 2,000. And instead of 40-seat rides at theme parks, these will be full-scale theatre conversions.

The people at this conglomerate are deluding themselves if they think that this will really work for audiences. If 3D is already too distracting for most viewers, how can 4D be any better? Even if the ploy is only to sell more expensive tickets, consumers are not this stupid. If the 200-theatre deal goes through, moviegoers won’t be going to 4D shows all the time – it’ll be an occasional novelty, just like the vapid 4D rides at tourist traps.

And this all goes behind the back of the people who actually have to make the content. Many directors are forced nowadays to make 3D features for studios. They don’t like the format, and it shows. Post-converted 3D and native 3D films alike demonstrate little understanding of how to use 3D effectively.

4D will introduce yet another list of external effects to add to a feature. It was challenging enough to make a traditional movie that connects with audiences. Now directors will have to figure out when to tickle a moviegoer in their seat, or when to make them smell gasoline. I’d say that’s one assignment too many.

With all these counterarguments, I can’t fathom how anyone in a major cinema chain can think that 4D will be a profitable venture for the movie business. If they want to boost attendance, they should invest in making the traditional experience more enjoyable: lower ticket prices, stricter audience policies and less dependence on 3D. Don’t let 4D be yet another reason viewers flee to the convenience and comfort of home streaming services.

Maybe this is just a symptom of our fragmented culture. Maybe 4D should be allowed to develop and expand. But I know that in the near future, when I’m inevitably asked, “Would you like to see that in 4D, sir?”, I’ll be replying, “No, hold the extra dimension, please. I’m keeping an eye on my sanity.”


What do you think of 4D movies? Is it the latest threat to the communal moviegoing experience? Or will it be a short-lived fad? Are you excited or curious to attend a 4D feature? Let me know in the comments below! If you liked this post, share it with your friends and followers, and browse through my other articles about movies here:


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